I wanted to take this opportunity to address the recent passage of the habitual offender law, commonly known as “Melissa’s Bill,” by both houses of the Legislature. However, before I discuss the specifics of the legislation or what is next in the process, I wanted to bring into focus two major occurrences that brought us to where we are today.
Two years ago, Woburn lost a police officer, and the Maguire family lost a father, brother and husband at the hand of a violent habitual offender. Having known Officer Jack Maguire, and having worked with his brother Chuck in the trial court, Officer Jack Maguire’s murder was devastating to not only me, but the entire Woburn community. What was more devastating were the revelations following Jack’s murder about the long criminal record of his murderer, and the apparent failures of our parole board at the time when it came to releasing a habitual, violent offender back into society.
In 1999, a young school teacher, Melissa Gosule was assaulted, raped, and murdered after her car broke down and she accepted the “assistance” of someone she thought to be a good samaritan. Her murderer had 27 prior felony convictions. Since that time, her father Les has advocated, along with Rep. Brad Hill of Ipswich, for what has commonly become known as “Melissa’s Bill” which would make sure that violent habitual offenders would remain behind bars for the maximum sentence of their third crime. Mr. Gosule and Rep. Hill have been advocating for more than 11 years, and I joined them four years ago while serving on the Judiciary Committee, with the hope that this bill would pass to help prevent any other innocent men, women, children, and parents from having to go through what his family has endured. Both gentlemen deserve a great amount of credit for their efforts over this long period of time.
It was these two murders, and the many other instances of violent habitual offenders that were researched over the course of more than a decade during this debate that brought us to where we are today. The House and the Senate came together and developed a common sense bill that puts the safety of the public at the forefront in the way we want to reform our criminal justice system. Our bill makes sure that if a violent habitual offender, sentenced to three years for two previous violent felonies, must serve the maximum sentence rendered on a third violent felony conviction. This is simply put; the bill is common sense, truth-in-sentencing for violent, habitual offenders. These offenders are the worst of the worst and prey on the general public.
Many opponents of the legislation have gone out of their way to compare this bill to the California “Three-strikes” policy of the 1990s. This assertion could not be further from the truth. In California’s law, any three felony convictions, including non-violent and drug related offenses would trigger no parole, which is absolutely the opposite of what this legislation does. Our bill only pertains to violent, habitual offenders who commit murder, rape, aggravated assault, among a list of other violent, heinous crimes. The bill also reforms the way the Parole Board operates by mandating that District Attorneys are informed of all parole hearings regarding their jurisdiction, requiring a two-thirds vote for release rather than a simple majority with the vote now being public record, and requiring that each Parole Board member certify that they have read the inmates criminal record before considering parole.
Having passed the Legislature with 85 percent support, a veto proof majority in both the House and the Senate, I strongly urge Governor Patrick to sign the legislation into law before the end of the legislative session on July 31. In joining with my colleagues to develop this legislation, common sense principles not only make Massachusetts tough on crime, but also smart on crime. We cannot afford to let violent habitual offenders go unpunished by starting this debate all over. The first priority of any elected official should be the safety of our citizens. The time for action is now.